Being asked to treat patients in unsuitable conditions could make nurses desensitised to poor care, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

Responding to Nursing Times’ survey, which revealed 63 per cent of nurses said patients were being treated in areas not designed for clinical care, RCN policy director Howard Catton said: “If people are consistently and over a period of time having to work in these ways, where they feel that because of the throughput pressure they are not able to give good care, then you start to normalise it.

You start to make move down a road where people don’t speak out – they won’t challenge it

“Compassion fatigue sets in and you get to a point where this becomes normal. You start to make move down a road where people don’t speak out – they won’t challenge it.”

It was a concern in relation to the scandal at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, he said, where some have asked why more nurses did not take their concerns further at an earlier stage.

Many of the nurses responding to Nursing Times’ survey said they raised concerns but changes were not made, or they were rebuffed.

National Patient Safety Agency director of patient safety Suzette Woodward said: “What concerns me most is that people don’t feel they are able to speak up or being listened to. A culture where people feel they are listened to is crucial.”

The Nursing and Midwifery Council is consulting on guidance to support would-be whistleblowers.

Director of standards and registrations Roger Thompson said: “Nurses are sometimes required to make the best of very difficult circumstances. However, in situations where problems in the environment are putting people at risk, they have a professional duty to report their concerns in writing.”

Unison head of health Karen Jennings said: “Patients should not be put in makeshift arrangements where they may not get the care and attention they need.

“Too often hospitals are using these arrangements to bypass targets in A&E. Sadly, we are hearing of some hospitals closing wards, which will only make the situation worse.”

Mr Catton said the problem was likely to be increasing because of demand and length of stay reductions, meaning patients are expected to move in and move out more quickly.